Sunday, December 31, 2006

“It’s on my side, yes it is…”

I am of course referring to time. One legacy of working closely with the deities that we do is that I have a pretty fluid concept of how time works. Var, our Lady’s highest servant (although it could be argued that they are of equal status, just doing different jobs) supposedly functions outside of what we think of as normal time. I’ve heard him try to explain how this works, and while I don’t think anyone listening really understood what he was saying, he definitely conveyed the idea that our concept of time is limited by the perspective of our experience of reality.

All that said, I don’t think that most people have as rigid a concept of how time works as they might think. Witness the following.

A few hours ago I received a phone call from next year. I don’t mean that I got a message from the Bosses about what was going to happen next year. I mean that my cell phone rang and the call was from 2007, while I am still in 2006. At first glance that sounds awfully crazy. But some of you may have already figured out what I am talking about.

Regular readers of BarkingShaman might remember that my partner Summerwind is in New Zealand for three weeks (now closer to two). He called me a few hours ago to wish me a happy new year. Where I am it is the afternoon of December 31st 2006. Where he is it is midday on January 1st 2007. Hence I was talking to someone from 2007 while I was still in 2006. Surely that makes perfect sense, a rigid concept of time should allow that, right?

However, the more you try to parse it out, the less sense it starts to make, not more. Summer and I exist on the same point of the time stream, what we think of as “now.” But a concept of time that allows “now” to be many different times doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. How can now be 5:50pm on the 31st here AND be 11:50am tomorrow (from my perspective)? We accept that that is the reality, but do we try to understand it? I don’t think most people are very comfortable trying to do so. If something in the world happens, such as an election. The people in New Zealand don’t get the results before we do, even though they live in “the future.” Rather it just happens on a different day.

Look at it this way. If the terrorist attacks of 9/11 had included simultaneous strikes in multiple parts of the world, some countries would mourn the tragedy of 9/11, while others would mourn the tragedy of 9/12, even though the attacks would have happened at the same “time.”

We manage to maintain in our minds two separate ideas of time and how it works. One concept is built around the idea of a universal “now.” That is the place on the stream of time which lies between the past and the future, and is occupied by our reality. The other concept is built around clocks and the relatively arbitrary baseline of Zulu (GMT/UTC). This other concept of time, which bases our idea of “now” in relation to Zulu time is what allows for the idea of it being different times in different parts of the world (24 parts actually). Although the two ideas should be incompatible, we maintain both in our minds and function just fine using one or the other when convenient.

Every now and then though, the two collide. My conversation with Summer was a good instance. It was simultaneously the 31st and the 1st. Yet obviously we were communicating in real time, or as close as transmission lag would allow.

I could go on further about this subject, but I don’t know if I could achieve any greater clarity in doing so than I have already done (or failed to do, you decide). The possibilities that this conflict raises are profound. If we really can maintain two disparate time concepts in our minds, surely we can maintain more than two. My experiences with Var have showed me that the possibilities are truly endless when one ventures into the realm of time. Interestingly, a dictionary search (as I just discovered) of the word “var” notes that it is the root word for words describing multiples, such as “various” or “variable” or “variation.”

As spirit workers and/or magicians, I believe, and so does the rest of Clan Tashlin, that we have an obligation to try to examine our spiritual or spirit driven insights with regards to how they interact with the modern world around us. As spirit workers, we sometimes get glimpses “behind the curtain” at the way the machinery of our existence works. In the last few years I have heard about several theories of experimental math or physics that describe many of the same concepts of time and the fabric of reality that Var has tried to explain to us.

I don’t think I’ll ever truly understand how times works. At the very least not while I am shackled to this meat-puppet and meat-brain perspective of corporeal existence. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t be awed by the fact that it does in fact seem to work, or at least our brains trick us into thinking that it does.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I like TV... and that's ok

Summerwind is away in New Zealand with his parents and sister for the next 20days-6hours-55minutes (I have a little count down timer on my google page). Fireheart has gone to Washington, DC to see her folks in exchange for her parents paying for new brakes for her car.

And I have gone to my mother’s house for a few days (with the dog). In the time that I have been here I have had an important realization: I like television. In fact, I think I’ll say it again just for good measure. I like television!

We haven’t had cable TV at our house for a few months because we were trying to save money. We haven’t. The money spent on extra books, magazines, and shows downloaded off of iTunes has equaled out to the same amount. We have an appointment for the cable guy to come in a few days. But that is not the point.

My parents have nice cable. Full out digital with all the premium channels. Last night I sat for a few hours and watched a marathon of Mythbusters, a favorite of mine that is not available on iTunes. It felt great.

In the spiritual, intellectual, and academic worlds that I have lived in for the last eight years, liking TV is frowned upon. Kind of like having a fondness for the occasional Twinky is frowned upon in… well in the same groups of people as TV. Actually, there is a remarkable similarity. Just as I have talked about liking the occasional junk food splurge, I believe that many people in these circles also like their television.

If you are reading this post, I am guessing that you also masturbate, maybe even to pornography. I think that for some people, TV is like masturbation. You do it. You know your friends do it. Maybe you and your friends do it together sometimes. But you don’t tell everyone about it.

If you think that I am embellishing here, well maybe I am. My lasts post have been all serious and shit and I need a break. Still, try going to an open public pagan gathering and after ritual saying loud enough for lots of people to hear “Hey, how about last night’s Survivor?” I’m more of a Project Runway man myself. Surprise! But the point remains the same.

When I was in college, when your family got a television was a mark of pride, the later in your life the better. “Well, I didn’t have a TV until I was thirteen years old!” The older you were when you started watching TV the more “intellectual” you were. This wasn’t everyone by any stretch, but plenty of the people I knew.

I have written in BS about using junk food and television to create mundane space. As a way to get away from the spooky shit that pervades the lives of those of us on the spirit worker path. There is great value in that, but it isn’t the only thing that TV is good for.

TV can just be entertaining. Sometimes you can just watch it because there is something on that you want to see. No better reason is required. Of course, it can also be mind-rotting crap. I will be the first to admit that. Like junk food, you can’t over indulge. And like pornography, sometimes it is hard to find something you like, and tempting to just go with what is there rather than try again later.
I’m looking forward to having the choice to do so again. I like watching endless West Wing reruns sometimes. I’ll have to be careful that I still get work for the company done until I get an office outside of the home, but the same goes for books and porn already. Maybe I’m just a bit crazy, but I don’t think that liking to watch TV makes me less spiritual or intelligent. Like with my increased tics, I think I will endeavor not to care if people agree with me about that.

I am a shaman and a magician. My goddess owns me. I bark like a dog. I am queer and poly. And I also like my porn and my television. So there!

Friday, December 22, 2006

"Life is demanding, without understanding"

“Life is demanding, without understanding.” Those immortal and some would argue, incomprehensible, words lead us into tonight’s topic, signs. Or more accurately, Signs.

Superstition is an inevitable professional hazard when one is a shaman, spirit worker, or magician. Knowing when something is coincidence or fate, a sign from the gods or just a freak occurrence, or even a sign of something but maybe not something spooky, is one of the hardest and most constant challenges in such a profession. There are obviously tools available to us to help make these sorts of distinctions. Divination, prayer, watching for omens, cross-checking our experiences with those of our colleagues and friends, even keeping an eye on the news, can all help us differentiate the likely possibilities.

The entire process of looking for Signs of Significant Things is complicated greatly when the Bosses tell you that you should be looking for Signs (for convenience and not sounding like a wanker that is the last time I am going to capitalize that word unless it is necessary for differentiation) but not necessarily what those signs will indicate or when you should expect them.

Of course, there is a second part to the question of recognizing something as a sign vs. just something that happened, and that is what, if anything, should I do about it? We’ll look at that question in a bit.

One issue that seems to have gripped many people both in and out of the pagan/spirit worker world is that of the weather. I live in New Hampshire which is not all that far from where I grew up in central Massachusetts. So even though I have recently moved, I still have a pretty good idea of what typical weather has been over my lifetime. This hasn’t been it.

This point was driven home especially hard as I was, well driving to Cauldron Farm for the Asphodel Yule ritual. My new car has a little outside temperature readout at the bottom of the speedometer that has proven to be surprisingly accurate to within a few degrees of other thermometers. Granted we left for the farm in the middle of the day but the temperature on our drive held steady at just about 52F. Hard to get into the Yuletide spirit when one can walk around comfortably in short sleeves. At least I can when it is that warm outside. This was not terribly out of synch with the year so far. We have yet to have a snow storm with more than an inch of accumulation on the ground which is ridiculous for New England.

While this has been going on here in New England, the Pacific Northwest has gotten slammed with several unusually severe storms, one of which dropped two feet of snow on Seattle, Washington, which is unheard of.

Has this been an anomalous year brought about by an unusual El Nino pattern, or is this a sign of something more significant? Perhaps related to global warming? More importantly for those of us in Clan Tashlin, what does this mean from a magical perspective? In the records of Clan Tashlin we have notations of severe storms or unusual weather making it much easier for different things to pass between the worlds (this year kids it’s like Samhain, only everyday!). Actually, this year hasn’t been that bad, but we’ve certainly seen periods when it has been in especially in areas where the barrier between the worlds is already weak. Unusual weather patterns can screw with a lot of natural cycles; there was just a report that in Scandinavia they are noticing that several species of migratory birds aren’t migrating. At the Farm I noticed that there was fresh green growth on the ground.

As land magicians we see many ramifications of this sort of thing. Certain kinds of energy flows and patterns are greatly impacted by weather abnormalities, not to mention disrupted growth patterns like non-migrating birds or fresh undergrowth in the wintertime.

Let’s get back to the discussion of signs though. Our Bosses have told us repeatedly that there are a lot of changes coming down the pike. Many of which will greatly impact people, sometimes in ways we might not like so very much. Should we look at the disrupted weather patterns, whether caused by global warming or not, as a harbinger of that phenomena? Or should we write it all of as sometimes the weather does wonky stuff?

I believe strongly in global warming and doing whatever we can to minimize it. I also believe that changes have been set in motion, including certain aspects of global warming, that will be beyond our ability to change. Part of Clan Tashlin’s job is to work on adapting to the changes coming over the world. This is why I operate a design company that does sustainable design and personal defense technology as aspects of its business focus. It is also why the Lady and Var trained us so extensively in understanding the energy and magics of the land.

Part of my job in Clan Tashlin is to monitor world events, political, social, economic, and geologic/meteorological. I also try to maintain connections with people who have demonstrated accuracy in precognition and divination. I have to work hard to try to avoid falling into the trap of believing that everything is a sign of something else. At the same time, too much skepticism can blind us.

Of course superstition or a tendency to regard “coincidence” as significant generally applies even more strongly in the everyday lives of spirit workers. In fact, I have heard it argued that the more one does this kind of work the less one believes in coincidences at all. In fairness, I have most often heard that argued by me. Lore is filled with omens and portents and they often play a major role in our lives as spirit workers.

Some spirit workers cope with this question by assuming that everything that happens has some deeper meaning. Others reject the notion of omens and signs entirely and ignore spooky indicator that are staring them right in the face. I like to think that most of us choose some middle road. As I mentioned earlier, divination and a connection to the gods and the universe are tools that help us differentiate the signs from just stuff that happens. Some spirit workers talk about a “feeling” that they get when something is a sign vs. just a duck crossing the sidewalk in front of a porn shop. Everyone has their system, but no matter what it is, superstition is an undeniable part of this life.

While most spirit workers have their own system for determining if something is a sign or not, one thing that is often not as simple is the question of “what do I do with this info?” Some schools of thought hold that it is best to ignore omens or signs because the universe has its way of doing thing and you shouldn’t get involved. Others hold the opposite view; if you have noticed or gotten the sign then it is your job to do something with the information. The same question applies in matters of precognition.

Back to what prompted me to think about signs and spirit work, the abnormal weather. Very few people in the spirit work world think that the weather changes mean nothing. When hurricane Katrina leveled New Orleans last year there was a feeling that something serious was coming. As I mentioned earlier, many of our gods have been telling their servants that shit is coming down. Is the weather a part of that? And if it is, then what?

As a land magician, I consider weather magic in all but the most select circumstances to be dangerous, irresponsible, and an expression of hubris. Asking the gods for a favor with the weather I don’t see as such a big deal, but a magician influencing the weather themselves tends to be a bad idea. So what I am asking has nothing to do with the weather itself. But should we be taking the strange patterns as a sign of things to come? And if it is, should we be putting in place contingency plans that our Bosses may have given us? How long is too long to wait?

“How long is too long to wait?” Like the question of the signs themselves, it is a question that applies to far more than the current unusual weather. In monitoring world events for Clan Tashlin I am seeing far more worrying things about in the world than some strange weather patterns. Signs? Or maybe the world is just working that way. When is something a sign? When is something just a happening, a duck walking in front of a porn shop, so to speak? Like the discussion of signs and what to do with them, it may be the most difficult, and perhaps the most important question that almost no one is asking.

I promise the next post won’t be as intense as the last few.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ritual mutilation and discovering "normal"

I’m re-posting an essay that I wrote for another website regarding a subject that is very important to me. I have been active in the movement to end routine infant circumcision for many years. As someone who considers themselves part of the body mod community as well I fully and wholeheartedly support anyone’s right to do whatever they choose to their body. What I don’t support is body modification on someone unable to give consent.

There has been talk in the news recently that circumcision could be an effective tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa. It is argued that mass circumcision could reduce the transmission of the HIV virus in people not using any other protection by 40%. This may be the case; there have been ongoing problems with certain aspects of the research.

I am afraid that the American Academy of Pediatrics will reverse their position that circumcision has no proven medical benefits in the face of this new data. The majority of sexually active men in this country are currently circumcised, yet our HIV/AIDS rates are not substantially lower than those of Canada or Western Europe and Britain. The situation here is considerably different than that of Africa, but that is not the issue. The issue is one of consent or lack thereof. Circumcision removes healthy and important erogenous tissue, a fact accepted in most parts of the world, although occasionally debated in the US.

Those of you who read BarkingShaman are aware that I do not shy away from tough subjects; that I am in fact forbidden by my Boss to do so. In addition to the subjects I have addressed here before, such as religion, sex, and politics. Since this is a subject I will probably be weighing in on again, here is the essay I wrote for blOUCH, a genital integrity site:

Ritual mutilation and discovering "normal" - Wintersong Tashlin

I was born in New York to Reform Jewish parents. I was circumcised at eight days in a traditional Jewish ritual circumcision. This means that my parent’s family and friends were all there to witness and celebrate the occasion of my public genital mutilation. I am told that a lovely brunch was prepared for everyone attending.

On the advice of her friends and family, my mother chose to leave the room where the ritual was taking place before the actual cutting of my genitals, and only returned after I was done screaming. Not one Jewish parent I have spoken to finds this remotely hypocritical, a fact that amazes me. The one time I asked my mother about it she said she just couldn’t stand to see me in that kind of pain. Couldn’t see it, but had no problems arranging for it and absolving herself of her clear guilt by simply not being present during it. I love my mother, and I understand that her person faith prevented her from even considered not having me cut, but the fact that she would not witness what she was cheerfully helping to prepare brunch for, makes me hate her just a little bit.

Because my genital cutting was a traditional Jewish ritual, it was done freehand with only a guide plate to prevent damage to the glans (well damage right then, circumcision could be said to “damage” the glans in the form of desensitization). It would be many years before I realized how dramatic the damage to my penis was.

Growing up Jewish, a religion I should disclose that I no longer belong to, I had no idea that circumcision was anything but the norm. I was a sexually interested child (and gay) from a young age and over the course of many sleepovers I saw many of my non-Jewish friends’ penises as well and, this being the early ‘80 they were all altered in the same way as mine.

I still remember the first time I ever saw an intact penis. I was eight years old and attending a Jewish sleep-away camp for the first time. The boys section of the camp had group showers for the different age groups, but the grounds keeping crew used the same shower rooms and they were mostly European college students who would come to America to work for two months and then spend another months touring the US before class resumed. Most of them were not Jewish, and being European, not circumcised. The first time I saw an intact penis I had no idea what I was looking at. The only conclusion I could come to was that the man’s penis was diseased or malformed in some way. It would be until I was a teenager, taking sex ed, and more importantly looking at gay porn that I would realize that his penis was the “normal” one.

Looking back now, I can clearly see that my adolescent sexual development was strongly shaped by the nature of my circumcision. Because so much skin had been removed, having an erection was often painful. As strange as it sounds to others, I had no idea that this was not normal. The only penis I had experience with from the inside was mine and this was how it worked. I also did not find the skin tearing or even bleeding a bit during erections or masturbation to be strange. Since I had always grown up with the idea of a circumcised penis as being the norm, surely I couldn’t be having problems connected to having been cut.

Right before I left for college, I learned about foreskin restoration on the internet. My interest at this time had nothing to do with being unsatisfied with the function of my penis. Rather as I became more and more involved in Neo-paganism and spirituality, I felt that something about my body was just wrong. Then, in several meditations I found that when I tried to visualize my body, I kept feeling that that something had to do with my genitals. Finally when I mediated with the intent of finding out the origin of this feeling I found my body being pictured as having a foreskin and the feeling of wrongness being gone. This was a strange idea for me, that having a foreskin could be more “normal” or “natural” than not.

After getting to college and becoming sexually active I would, of course discover that pain and bleeding are NOT normal parts of having an erection. This strengthened my interest in restoration. The first several months of trying restoration were discouraging to me as I did not seem to have any change in the tightness of my skin or the discomfort of erection. This was until my partner at the time noticed that I was gaining penile length. I would “gain” over and inch and a half of penile length, allowed for by the loosening skin freeing shaft tissue previously pushed back into the body, before any skin mobility would begin to show.

Years later, I am finally getting closer to being finished with restoration and some of the feelings of unhappiness with my genitals have eased. It has taken me years and years longer to restore than most people in part because I choose to go very carefully to minimize the impact of the radical and irregular nature of the mutilation itself. Also, I have at times given up for months at a time because of the knowledge that my restored foreskin will still not be the one that was taken from me (re-desensitization of the inner skin and glans always gets me going again). My partner of five years is intact from birth and the difference in our status caused issues early on in our relationship as I struggled with feelings of jealousy and inadequacy.

The question I find I ask myself regarding the circumstances of my own mutilation is this: how did my mother bath me and change my diaper for the seven days before the ritual and not find herself satisfied that I was perfect the way I was. How did she look at my body and think to herself “He’ll be even better after we cut some of him off.”

My mother considers my anti-circumcision activism to be a personal attack on her. This is fair, since I consider her endorsement and arranging for, my involuntary genital mutilation to have been a personal attack on me.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Now that the "bark" is back...

For about the past week or so I have been trying something new/old, I have been suppressing my tics as little as possible. At the same time I have not fallen into the trap of simply staying inside the house and moping about my tics coming back. Granted there are some things I simply can not do. For instance, I’d really like to see Casino Royal, the new James Bond film. This is just not practical. I am willing to accept the necessity of not suppressing my tics even in public settings, but I am not a completely selfish bastard. In most other venues though people’s reactions have been dramatically different then I expected. Primarily, none at all.

For the first several days I seriously psyched myself every morning up for dealing with all the negativity I expected to be coming my way. I have some pretty serious hang-ups about ticking in public and I apparently expected everyone else to have them also. It’s not like there haven’t been a few assholes, but I was not emotionally fucked up by them the way I expected I would be. The majority of people have ignored the tics and most of those who haven’t have approached me to ask questions not lob accusations. The more I was able to be out in public without problems, the less the occasional hostility bothered me. I knew that my tics were not intended to offend or annoy others, but seeing that most people understood that as well made it clear on an emotional (already there on the intellectual) level that people who react first and often entirely with hostility are the folks who have the issues, not me. Just reading that over it sounds like the kind of self-help feel-good crap that is often disregarded for its hokey-ness, but it is true none the less.

At the risk of sounding like a whiny little fuck; oh hell, I’m going to sound like a whiny little fuck for a few. I come by some of this emotional baggage legitimately. While most of my biological family has always been incredibly supportive when it comes to my Tourette, my biological father has made himself something of an exception. After my folks split up when I was very young, I only lived with my father for one year. I was thirteen and there were a lot of reasons I went to live with him for a year but they are not relevant here. What is relevant to this issue is that my father knew that folks with TS could suppress for periods of time and he felt that he needed to make me understand that it was my duty to do so in public at all times for the sake of others. I received a good number of lectures about “not imposing my condition on people I don’t even know.” He wanted me to promise not to tic in public which as my symptoms were very severe at the time, I couldn’t do. Since I couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t be ticking in public, my father wouldn’t take me out of the house when I wasn’t in school. At one point he even complained about me taking walks in the neighborhood and ticking because people in the condo development were starting to ask questions. Since I already had plenty of other issues around my father, this experience messed up my head but good.

Not that he didn’t have a point; he just took it way too far. I don’t think it is unreasonable for me to avoid movie theaters when my symptoms are too severe to safely suppress for several hours. I just don’t want to be a virtual prisoner in my house.

Whiny little retrospective over, sorry ‘bout that.

Interestingly, I am actually much more willing to go do errands and such now that I am not suppressing. Being out at the supermarket or other such banal happening is no longer the stressful exhausting experience it was. It is amazing what just removing the constant thought of “what if I tic” made things much more tolerable. Obviously, not having the strain of suppressing has also been a great help.

The Lady and Var have been amazingly generous in the last few weeks with regards to letting me focus on getting an emotional handle on this aspect of my life. Readers of this blog have probably noticed that the “shaman” in “barking shaman” has been absent for the past few weeks. There is some heavy shit coming down the pipe in the next few years and I guess that my Bosses were willing to grant me a few weeks to get my head in better order. I have it on good authority that I am going to be getting back to work quite soon and “work” is going to make my recent shamanic ordeal cycle look like the “employee orientation and break in period” that She claims it was.

“Notes from a Barking Shaman” was intended as an amusing and in the end, self deprecating and ironic title for a blog that She insists that I write. Over the past several months however, I have found myself seeing it more and more as simply a statement of fact. I have many different aspects to my personal identity, but I am realizing that the barking shaman is one of those. Not as someone with TS who happens to be a shaman. Nor as a shaman, spirit worker, and magician who just happens to have TS. Some part of my identity is to be the Barking Shaman, not just a shaman who also barks. Just as being queer has had an impact on all aspects of life, especially the sprit work and magic, so will the Tourette.

Sometimes I just fucking hate it when They turn out to be right about something they’ve been saying for a while after all.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Well that didn't take long

Saw this on CNN Online this morning:

Cheney daughter's pregnancy dismays some

I honestly do feel a bit sad for Ms. Cheney and Ms. Poe that what should be a simply joyous announcement is tainted by the bigotry of people they've probably never met.

Then I remember that Mary Cheney was a key player in her father's election campaign and I care less.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The downfall of human civilization

I have several serious posts I could be making this evening but I am unable to. The reason for my inability to think in any coherent way is that my beloved Fireheart posted this to her blog:
(work safe other than the f-word appearing in it, but then I use such language all the time in BS)

The last one on the bottom is my absolute favorite. I am sure that I should be writing some sort of biting social commentary here. After all, thoughtful and thought provoking posts were the reason I created Barking Shaman.

But a picture is worth a thousand words, and I fear I will never have the literary talent to capture the 3000 words entailed in those pictures.

It's so nice when...

I love it when I can be legitimately happy for an event in someone's life that is also going to make people I'd just as soon be miserable, well miserable.

I checked CNN Online this morning and saw this article, which brought a big smile to my face:

Vice president's lesbian daughter pregnant

I am happy for Ms. Cheney and Ms. Poe, as I would be for anyone who had decided to have children. Of course I am especially pleased for them as it is not a simple process for a gay couple to have a child (and while yes, it may be easier for a lesbian couple, it still isn't "easy")

That said, it is pretty inevitable that the Radical Right is going to have collective apoplexy. I imagine that this quote will be especially problematic:

said Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for the vice president. The baby is due in late spring.

"The vice president and Mrs. Cheney are looking forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of their sixth granddaughter," McBride said.

Say what you will about Dick Cheney, and I'll freely say that I think he is one of the most immoral and scary bastards ever to walk the halls of power, but he has to know that this is going to get the Right going. I am going to give him the benefit of doubt and say that he is just more interested in his daughter and forthcoming 6th grandchild.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Uncle Sam Says “You’re not really here!”

Last year I changed my legal name. Fireheart and Summerwind were going to change theirs too, but that’s another story. Now before you groan in horror, I should point out that I only changed my last name. I refuse to expect the bank teller to call me “Wintersong” and it probably wouldn’t be the best thing for my business either.

The actual process of changing my name was relatively simple. I contact the village where I was born, sent a check a copy of my driver’s license, and I request for a copy of my birth certificate. I then took my birth certificate to the probate court office, filled out a form, paid a modest fee, and after a brief meeting with the judge it was done. It takes longer to get an appetizer at the Olive Garden. The probate office keeps the birth certificate and gave me an official document showing the legal change of name. When I filled out this form I was asked if Vermont should ask New York (my state of birth) to change my birth certificate. The judge told me the process was a pain in the ass and for sentimental reasons I wanted my birth certificate to have my birth name on it. For any official business a copy of my birth certificate and the name change form would be fine.

Now however, there is a bit of a problem. At some point in the move from NH to VT the second copy of my birth certificate that I had ordered at the same time as the one the probate court kept, went missing. This would not concern me except for the fact that New Hampshire will not issue a driver’s license without either a birth certificate or passport.

I contacted the village where I was born and sent them a copy of my license and the judge’s order changing my name along with a check and request for a new copy of my birth certificate. They refused. A few hours and a number of aggravating phone calls later and here are the facts:

1. The state of New York now requires that the person requesting a birth certificate either have the same name as is on said certificate OR present a marriage license showing a change of name. A judge order showing change of name is no longer accepted.

2. According the person I spoke to in Albany, I am not the person whose name is on the birth certificate. He was in fact quite nasty about it, going so far as to yell at me that I had to get it through my head that I am not that person and as far as New York is concerned that person no longer exists and therefore cannot request his birth certificate.

3. It will take 6-9 months to get my birth records changed. However New York requires certain steps are taken in the changing of a name that Vermont does not. Specifically I can’t provide proof of publication as Vermont does not perform publication as part of the process anymore. I was told that without proof of publication there is an excellent chance that after 6-9 months New York State will deny my request for change of birth records.

4. The probate court in Vermont might be willing to give me back the birth certificate that they took when my name was changed. Unfortunately, that copy had my mother and father’s names and social security numbers on it. Since for some reason that information can not be in the records, the secretary removed the information with an exacto knife. New Hampshire will not recognize the document as it has been altered.

5. New Hampshire will not grant me any sort of temporary license until this is sorted out and if I don’t get my driver’s license transferred over soon they are going to order my auto insurance policy terminated.

6. NONE of this would be happening if I had a marriage license. The state has totally different standards and procedures for someone who changed their name as a consequence of a legal marriage. I assume that this stems from the fact that most people wouldn’t want their birth records to reflect a last name they got from their spouse.

Fortunately, it turns out that my mother has the very first copy of my birth certificate and she is willing to lend it to me for 24hours to get this immediate shit settled. The state of New Hampshire will accept the old birth certificate along with the judge’s order for getting my license. But obviously this just postpones the situation. For instance I would really like to get a passport. And it is just a good idea to be able to access one’s birth records.

None of this makes me feel safer. I was told by several different officials that a few years ago this would not have been a problem. My driver’s license and social security card (both of which reflect the name change) along with an original certified copy of the judge’s order would have been perfectly adequate to get a copy of my birth certificate with the old name on it. However, Homeland Security regulations have changed the way they do business.

This actually makes me feel less safe. I have inadvertently discovered a way to help someone “disappear.” As far as New York is concerned, to a significant legal extent I don’t exist. The state does not acknowledge any connection between me and the person who had my name until just over a year ago. I can think of some ways that could be useful to someone who wanted to vanish into legal obscurity, currently the last of my needs.

Not in a good way

Here’s today’s metaphor for today: If I am going to get ass-fucked by some old guy I’ve never met before, I shouldn’t need to beg him to use a bit of lube. What could I be writing about? It could only be the delightful process of shopping for a car. Rather than the fun and exciting experience I always imagined it would be when I was a kid, car shopping doesn’t suck quite as hard as breaking a vertebra.

I had a car I loved dearly. She was a 2004 Mazda 3-series 5-door sports wagon. She was incredibly fun, quite practical, and one of the most attractive automobile models on the road. Her name was Aubrey, named for the character in Something Positive. Aubrey had less than five miles on her odometer the day I drove her off the lot, full of excitement and joy. There turned out to be only one glaring problem with my beautiful girl; Mazda can’t seem to build a reliable automobile. In confirmation of that thought, the service manager of the dealership where I bought her recently pointed out to me that with 66k on her I should expect I’d be having some pretty serious mechanical problems. I am pretty confident that the sales dept would prefer he not say shit like that.

Now it is important to note that I made a big mistake when I bought her. The Mazda-3 had only been out for about six months in the U.S. that day I drove her off the lot. The expected reliability for the Mazda-3 was quite good, as was the expected safety rating. As it turns out, the 3 did not do nearly as well as expected in the side impact crash tests, and at least Aubrey turned out to be plagued with mechanical difficulties, which is more common in a brand new model. It began to look like a better and better idea to send my beautiful Aubrey off to a new home and get a car that isn’t going to spend so much time in the shop at what is considered to be a low number of miles for a car bought in the last few years.

Enter the rough ass-fucking! I made the decision that if I was going to be trading in my Mazda-3 it would have to be for a car which met our needs at least as well if not better. That meant it had to be a wagon or truck, fit three of us plus a dog pretty comfortably, get reasonable fuel economy, have an excellent and proven reliability and safety record, be at least vaguely interesting to drive, and preferably do better than Aubrey in the snow. Also, as we were likely to only clear about 2k after paying off my loan on the Mazda and my folks were kicking in 3k; I wanted to be able to buy it without owing any more on the new car than I do on Aubrey (about $7600). Only one vehicle met those requirements, the Subaru Forester. Two days of intensive internet research later and Fireheart and I were ready to go drive some cars.

Let me describe this process. It all started before we walked out the door of our house with the selection of appearance. I am wearing white Dockers pants, a patterned golf shirt I got from my 65 year old father, and on my left wrist I wore a solid gold Hamilton watch I inherited. That’s right, for a day I was magical transformed into a wealthy and preppy looking young business owner. Only the small tattoo on my wrist and the slightly oversized earring in my right ear betrayed me as being a bit off from my projected image. I hate this shit almost as much as Fire hates dressing fem; she even put on ordinary red nail polish. I did not bring Summer as I knew I would have an easier time if I was perceived as a normal married heterosexual. If you think this is all over the top you have never gone into a dealership to buy a car.

We had already contacted the dealerships we were going to visit to confirm that the car we were interested in was available so we had a salesperson expecting us already. Before we get to drive the car there is paperwork to fill out. This I understand, as if I was to wreck their car they want to have some confirmation that I have, you know, a license and such. We discovered that the 2003 and later Foresters were quite nice, and that I couldn’t stand the thought of owning one of the 2002 or earlier ones. This was not a status symbol issue or anything, the car was completely redesigned in that time and the driving experience and ride were totally different. The only ’03 design or later the first dealership had was an ’05 with far to few miles and far to high an asking price. However, I was willing to go along with the salesperson, who we had told in no uncertain terms that this car was out of our price range, when he started pressing me to run the paperwork for the ’05 Forester. There was a slim chance that they would offer me a good enough price on the Mazda to make it viable.

Price on the Mazda, which brings us to the first really crappy thing (other than attitude) which happened at every dealership I visited. I’d already researched the dealer trade-in value on my car and knew that I could expect between $9k and $10k. I also had to tell the salesperson what I still owed on the car before they would give me a trade in price. When the salesperson came back with the offer it was about $50 higher than what I stilled owed the bank. When I asked about why the offer was so much lower than blue book value the salesman hemmed and hawed a bit but when we got up to leave he ran off and came back with an offer of just slightly less than I expected to get but only if “I could commit right now.”

The one condition on my parents helping us out with the 3k cash down on the new car was that they wanted to be a part of the process. This meant I was not going to commit to anything without consulting them. I had made this clear to our salesperson at each dealership and at each dealership they tried to force a commitment out of me. Usually they gave me a song and dance about putting down a deposit on the car I wanted.

The problem with this whole approach is twofold. First off I know that screwing me is an option on the table after the shell game around my trade-in value. This does not make me inclined to trust or to commitment. Secondly, I am not one to give in when pressured. Certainly I don’t give a shit about the salesman enough to fall for the hurt and betrayed routine. That was usually the direction they went as soon as it became clear that they were not getting a sale right then. As I now drive a Subaru Forester, clearly I was not just wasting their time because I had nothing better to do, but that is the attitude they most often took.

I did eventually find a car for the right price with the features I wanted (mostly safety features) at a place that was willing to give me a decent trade in value. The buying process was another nightmare, but this one marked by incompetence rather than deceit. I sat and read every single document I was handed in exacting detail, even when assured it didn’t say anything different than the salesman had already told me. I found so many errors, some very serious, that the paperwork had to be sent back five times to be redrawn. I was there for over five and a half hours. Once I had agreed to purchase the car, I was suddenly much less important than a prospective customer. Then the dealership had to send someone up to my house the next day to deliver documents without which it was illegal for me to be driving.

I know that lately I have been bitching about life shit more than I prefer to in BS. The issue here though is not really a personal one for me. Unlike the previous post about me physical therapist, there was nothing personal here whatsoever. My problem with the car buying experience is specifically that this was not personal. I felt dirty, depressed, and vulnerable after visiting each dealership and that is what the industry aims for. Everything about the car buying process is designed to make one feel like a supplicant.

As Fireheart said, the experience is designed to make you feel like you are or should be begging the salesperson to let you buy a car from them. With that in mind I was able to avoid some of the tactics that seemed designed to that end. For instance, at every dealership we went to the chairs for customers were noticeably lower than the chair the salesperson sat in. I kept expecting someone to come over to me with a paper smock that ties in the back like you have to change into at some doctor’s offices.

Another comment of Fireheart’s sums up the entire experience. She said “You know, every time I am on my way to a car dealership I tell myself that my memories of how smarmy and sleazy car dealers are has been embellished by my imagination and that the reality can’t really suck that hard. Then it invariably does.”